Nickelodeon’s Super Bowl broadcast: an ingenious, wildly chaotic splash

Nickelodeon’s Super Bowl broadcast: an ingenious, wildly chaotic splash

This alternate Super Bowl program is, per a production company statement, intended for “lovers of slime and really good sports time”. Can’t say I’m in either camp. But nevertheless I find myself parked in front of – or should I say glued to? – Nickelodeon’s and CBS Sports’ slime-soaked Super Bowl simulcast, while the other members of my family are across the room, watching the extra-tense sport showdown like normal people.

Super Bowl LVIII Live from Bikini Bottom, as the wackadoodle extravaganza is called, is streaming from an official broadcast booth overlooking Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. Seated in front of the cameras is a pair of humans, sports commentators Noah Eagle and Nate Burleson; as well as partners-in-slime Tom Star and Bill Fagerbakke, who voice SpongeBob SquarePants and his starfish sidekick, Patrick Star, respectively. Thanks to the miracle of reality-augmented animation, the latter gentlemen appear on my screen as blobby animations in the commentator booth. A menagerie of other inhabitants of SpongeBob’s underwater world pop up on the football field, such as Larry the Lobster and Sandy Cheeks, the bucktoothed Texan SpongeBob character who pulls her weight as (a hilariously biased) sideline commentator. Dora the Explorer cameoed as a rules expert. And let’s not forget the enormous purple pelicans who sporadically materialize on the sidelines to burp up whole cheeseburgers by the dozen.

The set-up is an ingenious feat in Nickelodeon marketing, with brand icons popping up all over the place, along with flying emojis, pineapples that spin out of players’ heads and countless jellyfish. Slime geysers gush in the event of a field goal or touchdown. The overall effect calls to mind the sticker book of the wildest child you’ve been lucky enough to meet.

The show has another aim: to stir up a younger generation’s interest in the sport, which saw a 13% decline in youth participation from 2019 to 2022, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Perhaps, I figured, it could arouse my interest, too. I’ve never been able to see past the blur of rumbling and tumbling and absorb the rules of the game. On Super Bowl night you can usually find me nattering by the nacho station.

Fagerbakke, the voice of Patrick Star, assured me that I am not the only ignoramus on the scene when I called him earlier this week. “I am a professional moron,” he said in that full-bodied voice I am used to hearing streaming out of the iPads of small children at restaurants. The Idaho-born actor played football in college, and his foremost reason for agreeing to narrate the game while wearing a leotard and tights was to show children that “a gladiatorial sport” can have a fun side. “My job is to make silly stuff happen and make room for new football fans,” he said.

Tonight’s project is wildly chaotic, and no less impressive. Watching Travis Kelce’s face tense and twist as the game falls out of his team’s favor is stressful, but my hosts do everything they can to lighten the mood. I’m not even tempted to go sit on the couch with my family members.

Not even during commercial breaks, whose content is mind-boggling in its own way. I learn that there’s a candy on the market that’s a sugar-crusted gummy worm meant to be dipped into a pool of sticky syrup. There’s also a plush toy that kids stick in a pretend oven. The tagline: “From dough to woah!”

Speaking of sticky stuff, there’s not much slime dumping. (Then again, there aren’t many touchdowns, particularly early on.) But there’s an ocean’s worth of goofy banter and fun facts. I now know which player is said to have ice in his veins and who likes pepperoni pizza. I start to get the sense I might be absorbing something about how this game works. I find myself laughing out loud when we cut to celebrity audience shots of animations including Leprawn James, Doja Catfish and Oprah Finfrey.

Game over. Was my watch party of one the event of a lifeslime? Well, it got me to sit in front of a football game from start through the final play of overtime. And I kind of liked it. So I’m going to go out on a fin and say yes, it was.

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